In Bill’s struggle with depression, he looks for help outside of the Twelve Steps. What he finds in psychotherapy and his relationship with Father Ed Dowling will change his perspective on the Steps.
After returning from a three month tour of the States, during which he and Lois visited most existing AA groups, Bill collapses into depression and remains depressed for two years. He suffers from such episodes until 1953. Bill’s depression is troubling to many AA’s, some of whom accuse Bill of not working the program. Bill himself also wonders if he hasn’t failed to practice the Steps. According to the official AA biography of Bill:
|Bill believed that his depressions were perpetuated by his own failure to work the AA steps…”I used to be rather guilt ridden about this…I blamed myself for inability to practice the program in certain areas of my life.”
Pass It On
And Bill may have good reason to believe that his Stepwork is deficient.
|According to Tom P., when he was working with Bill on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill was frequently overwhelmed by the guild and remorse he felt as a consequence of his infidelities and the turmoil his affairs were causing within the fellowship…According to Tom, trying to write about the need for alcoholics to practice “rigorous honesty”…left Bill felling terribly fraudulent. The result was those days…when he was so despondent he literally could not pick his head up from his desk.
Bill may see his depression as a result of his failure to work the Twelve Steps, but he does not turn to Stepwork to get him back on his feet. This may be due in part to the influence of Father Ed Dowling.
Bill meets Dowling when the man comes knocking at his door in 1940. At the time Bill is down and out, but still four years from serious depression. Dowling announces that he has sought Bill out to discuss the similarities between the Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Twelve Steps. During their conversation, Bill confesses his personal struggles. Dowling, author of the article, “How to Enjoy Being Miserable,” gives Bill a new perspective on depression.
|Father Ed quoted to him, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst.”
When Bill asked whether there was ever to be any satisfaction, the older man snapped back, “Never. Never any.” Bill was to be a person who would keep on reaching. In his reaching he would find God goals, hidden in his own heart.
The Soul of Sponsorship
Accepting this view means that Bill can understand his growing despondency not as a result of his failure to apply spiritual principles, but a sign of his spiritual depth and giftedness. According to Dowling, God has blessed Bill with an ambition and a desperation that cause his suffering, but will also lead Bill to great things. The solution for Bill, then, is not to search deeper for moral lapses and confess them, but to press on and accept the suffering as an inevitable fact. Bill does exactly that for four years until his depression becomes intolerable and he seeks help in psychotherapy.
In 1943, Bill enters therapy with Henry Tiebout, who specialized in the treatment of alcoholics and introduced Marty M. to AA. Tiebout’s diagnosis of Bill was that:
|both in his active alcoholism and his current sobriety he had been trying to live out the infantilely grandiose demands of “His Majesty the Baby.”
This statment reflects Tiebout’s view of alcoholics in general. The next year, Bill switches therapists, and begins seeing Frances Weeks, a Jungian. Week’s opinion of Bill is that his position in AA is causing him to neglect his personal needs. Says Bill in a letter to a friend regarding this insight:
|Highly satisfactory to live one’s life for others, it cannot be anything but disastrous to live one’s life for others as those others think it should be lived…The extent to which the AA movement and the individual in it determine my choices is really astonishing. Things which are primary to me (even for the good of AA) are unfulfilled…So we have the person of Mr. Anonymous in conflict with Bill Wilson.
The Soul of Sponsorship
Bill continues treatment with Weeks until at least 1949.
Bill’s experience in psychotherapy has an impact on his understanding of recovery and Stepwork. In two letters written in 1956, Bill suggests a means for the application of psychotherapy to AA principles.
|It may be that someday we shall devise some common denominator of psychiatry…which neurotics could use on each other. The idea would be to extend the moral inventory of AA to a deeper level, making it an inventory of psychic damages…I suppose someday a Neurotics Anonymous will be formed and will actually do all this.|
In the second letter Bill suggests:
|an inventory of psychic damages, actual episodes: inferiority, shame, guilt, anger and relive (them) in our minds to reduce them.
both letters from
The end result of Bill’s relationship with Father Ed Dowling and psychoanalytic treatment is that Bill moves away from a Religious Conversion View of recovery and adopts a Psychological View of recovery instead. Bill’s Psychological View will greatly influence his thinking as he writes Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and so it will also affect the future practice of the Twelve Steps.
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